There are few things more inspiring than when people come together and decide to take a stand for real and lasting change–a change they believe is necessary in order for future generations to not only live a life of dignity, but also to thrive in an increasingly interconnected global society.

On December 6, 2016, 27 communities from rural Guinea-Bissau joined a movement to ensure a future where all children, women, and men live in an environment where human rights principles are universally adhered to. These 27 communities from the Gabú region publicly declared respect for human rights, placing an emphasis on the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC), child/forced marriage, and all forms of violence against women and children. Over 230 people from rural communities participated in this historic event to expand the space in which every woman, man and child is free from all forms of violence and discrimination. The declaration included speeches from representatives of the communities, and both adult and adolescent participants of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP).

Local government representatives opened and closed the ceremony expressing appreciation for the collaboration of the Government of Guinea-Bissau to ensure partnership with Tostan–as well as recognition that further efforts would be necessary for the program to reach all 4,000 communities in the country.

When Tostan launched the first implementation of its program in Guinea-Bissau back in 2009, there was no law against FGC. However, Tostan was able to work with members of the government, national NGOs, and leaders of rural communities, in order to: support the creation of legal foundations for the abandonment of FGC, strengthen the capacity for national actors to achieve desired results in their interventions, and perhaps most importantly, demonstrate to rural communities that it is their responsibility to shape their visions and make them a reality. A law was finally passed prohibiting FGC in 2011, and in 2013, 30 national NGOs that were part of the National Committee for the Abandonment of Harmful Traditional Practices (CNAPN) received training on the Tostan model. Since then, a collective of organizations has worked under the umbrella agency of the CNAPN to organize public declarations in other regions of Guinea-Bissau where harmful traditional practices are prevalent. The CNAPN–inspired by the Tostan model–has tried to expand their version of the model to other regions where Tostan has not implemented its program, including areas where there is a high concentration of harmful traditional practices.

These public declarations are a continuation of a movement that began in 2009–a movement that continues to grow.

In the words of Alassane Diédhiou, the National Coordinator of Tostan Guinea-Bissau: “Today, it is the communities that have spoken and declared respect for human rights and abandonment of harmful traditional practices. Tomorrow we will all see what the declarations will bring, for the communities have inspired strong emotion and have shown that every bright day starts with a rising sun.”

This generation of children–children such as Saliu Djau, the young girl who read aloud the text of the declaration–has an important role to play in shaping the future of Guinea-Bissau. It is these girls and boys who are some of the first to experience their mothers taking on new leadership roles in their communities, and who have now had the chance to represent their communities in declaring the state of their own future.

Contributions from Yussuf Sane, Tostan volunteer in Guinea Bissau